As any career counselor can tell you, one of the hardest questions to answer is that of what a specific professional does on a day-to-day basis. Job titles and descriptions seldom cover all of the daily tasks in detail, especially in a day and age where many workers wear multiple hats they weren't wearing just a few years ago. When it comes to nursing, the question of "what do nurses do?" is so wide open all recruiters can do is provide some of the basics.
We'll talk about some of those basics here as well. But first it's important to realize how many different types of nurses there are. If you can walk down the corridors of your local hospital and write on a piece of paper all the different departments you can identify, you can rest assured there is a specific nurse for that department. Just as an example think about things like pediatrics, oncology, radiology, immunology, cardiology, and so on. Of course don't forget things like the emergency unit and the ICU.
Next you'll need to consider that there are different levels of nursing. The three most common ones are:
- LPN - licensed practical nurse
- RN - registered nurse
- BSN - a registered nurse with a bachelor of science in nursing degree
The LPN and the RN are the two most common classifications of nursing in the United States. The LPN requires the least amount of education and training but also is limited in the tasks he or she can provide. LPNs work in private practices, public health clinics, schools, nursing homes, corporate environments, and hospitals. As for the RN, he or she is capable of most nursing tasks and will be eligible for supervisory positions in larger institutions.
Nursing in a Private Practice
Smaller private practices of just one or two physicians will typically hire one registered nurse and an LPN or CNA (certified nursing assistant) to fill out staff needs. Larger practices with multiple doctors will add RNs and LPNs as necessary. The daily tasks of the nurse in a private practice really depend on whether or not there are any CNAs working in the office.
The CNA does basic things like check patients in, measure height and weight, check blood pressure, and do an initial consultation prior to the doctor coming into the examining room. If a private practice does not have any CNAs on staff those tasks will fall to the LPN or RN. If there are CNAs on staff the nurses are freed up to do other things. They will assist a physician in certain examination room procedures, handle medical records, advise patients over the phone regarding the doctor's advice, make sure prescriptions are filled, and so on.
Nursing in a Clinic or Hospital
The clinic or hospital environment provides a bigger challenge for the nurse because the tasks are so varied. Depending on the department the nurse works in, tasks can range from daily personal care of patients to supervising other staff members. Just to give you an idea of nursing in such an environment let's talk about a staff nurse who works on the floor with patients.
In a clinic or hospital the nurse can expect to engage in several different aspects of patient care. First of all, the nurse will be responsible for monitoring the physical condition of the patient, keeping written records of progress, administering medications, and advising physicians as to a patient's current state of affairs. In some cases the nurse will perform minor routine procedures under the order and supervision of an attending physician. Such procedures would include administering an IV and changing dressings.
Nurses in a clinical environment are also tasked with making sure patients remain comfortable in bed and get the necessary help when moving around. A nurse might help a patient use the bathroom, take a walk to get some exercise, or simply move from bed to chair. In some hospitals with limited staff the nurse will also bathe and groom patients and change bed linens. Most of all however, the nurse provides a listening ear and a measure of compassion and understanding to sick patients.
Nursing in an Assisted Living Facility
Nurses who work at assisted living facilities for the elderly or disabled are truly a special breed. They must endure some of the harshest working conditions in addition to helping patients who don't always understand what's happening to them. As a general rule nurses at such facilities are LPNs being supervised by one or more RNs. They will perform all of the day-to-day tasks including bathing and grooming, administering medication, assisting in moving patients, monitoring patient health, and so on.
Nursing in an ICU Unit
Perhaps one of the most challenging areas of nursing is that of the intensive care unit (ICU). This type of environment requires the most highly skilled nurses with the best work ethic. In the ICU nurses deal with life and death situations every shift of every day. Because of the delicate health of the patients in the ICU nurses are assigned fewer patients than they would be on another floor. They constantly monitor their changes for anything that could be potentially dangerous. That means they need to be fully versed in all of the equipment being used and its proper function.
Furthermore, the nature of the ICU typically means CNAs are not used to do things like bathe and groom patients. In the ICU the nurse assigned to any given patient usually handles all of the nursing duties herself. She must be especially attentive in administering medication, checking vital signs, and keeping accurate records.
We've provided here just an overview of what nurses do. Because of the scope and nature of the profession it would be impossible for us to list every task without creating a rather large volume. If you're interested in nursing as a career your best bet for specific answers to your questions is the admissions counselor at a nursing school. You might also talk to nurses you know at your doctor's office or hospital. Quite often they're willing to share with you their experiences as well as answer your questions.